Jessica Diner is a bit of a celebrity within the fashion and beauty scene. Whenever her name crops up in conversation everyone leaps into a monologue about how much they love her and admire her feminine style. After spending eight years in the beauty department at British Vogue, Jessica knows her Darphin from her DECLÉOR; and now she’s in a new role, heading up the editorial team at Birchbox UK.
After London Fashion Week I managed to find a brief gap in Jessica’s busy schedule, and pinned her down to discuss her career path, favourite beauty products and the advice she swears by. It’s one #My9to5 that you won’t want to miss, so let’s get started…
When did you first become interested in makeup and cosmetics? And what inspired you to get into beauty?
My mum is French, and she’s very Parisian. She’s always looked after her skin and is a real cleanse, tone, moisturise and exfoliate once-a-week kind of woman. She was always into products and wore Chanel No5 every day, so I think she definitely turned me into a beauty junkie. She always used to say that I should be a beauty therapist, because I’d love to do face masks on my sister and squeeze her spots. I worked as a receptionist at a spa when I was growing up, and I loved being around therapists and around different products. So I thought, if anything, I would go into the treatment side of beauty.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I studied French Literature at university, because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and languages are a good skill… Plus, you got to live in France for a year, so that was pretty cool. I would intern over the summers, and I ended up doing an internship at Tatler magazine, working with the beauty team. That is probably what opened up my eyes to working in the world of beauty. The cupboard was unbelievable. I was like, “So you have all of these products, and you get to write about them and try them? And it’s all for free?!” It was like Alice in Wonderland – I was just a kid in a candy store.
And once I realised that was something you could legitimately do as a job I was hooked, and one internship turned into another. I did lots of internships within Condé Nast, including one at British Vogue. A full-time assistant position came up whilst I was there, which I applied for, and I got the job and stayed at Vogue for eight years, working my way up to an editor position.
What was it like working at British Vogue?
Well, it’s not like The Devil Wears Prada. That was the one thing that everybody would always ask me! At the risk of sounding really cheesy, it’s just the most unbelievable combination of people. Everyone that works there is there for a reason, because they’re at the top of their game. So as an intern or an assistant you’re exposed to the most unbelievable talent and personalities. Everyone is extremely warm, down-to-earth and very friendly. I had the most amazing learning experience there.
I could have easily stayed at Vogue until I was 100, but I always thought that if I were to leave it would have to be for something in a different side of the beauty industry. And, for me, Birchbox is perfect because there’s amazing content and writing, but you also have that digital and commercial experience.
What does your typical day at Birchbox look like?
Basically meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings! I oversee the editorial side of things as well as the creative, so I work really closely with the design teams to see what the boxes will look like. So, a typical day is meetings back-to-back… I might start the morning at a breakfast meeting with Rachel, Birchbox’s UK PR, to talk about a potential partnership. Or I could be meeting with a brand who want to come on board with Birchbox. We do quite a lot of external meetings, because it’s all part of building up brand awareness, and we also have a lot of internal meetings. We’re a very small, close knit team; and rather than send emails to each other we prefer to sit down and brainstorm our latest campaigns, discuss what messages we want to push that month, and put together our content calendars.
SHOP JESSICA’S STYLE:
What are the biggest challenges you face working in the beauty industry?
I think the beauty industry is so saturated…. In a good way, but it just means you have to work harder for your brand to be noticed. There’s so much competition today, whether it’s another box subscription company, a beauty brand, or simply vying for people’s attention on social media. So it can be a challenge to make sure you’re able to stand out where there’s so much information going out daily.
What’s the coolest thing about your job?
I still love trying products! I’m such a product junkie and my husband thinks I’m nuts because I bring so much stuff home. For him it’s like, “But you have 10 cleansers, why do you need another one?” But I still love trying new products and going to press launches. I’m a bit of a geek at heart, and I love knowing about ingredients, new technologies and innovations. Being exposed to an industry that is so dynamic and constantly changing is really exciting.
How to you unwind after a tough day at work?
At the moment I would say Game of Thrones. I’m probably the last person on the planet to get into it, but I’m really obsessed and I can’t wait to get home, have dinner, make a cup of tea and watch Game of Thrones every night. It’s my current obsession. I love Robb Stark, he’s a dreamboat.
Which products are currently in your makeup bag and on your nightstand?
It changes all the time, but I definitely have beauty staples. I’m always raving about Liz Earle Cleanse and Polish – it’s such an amazing cleanser – and Elemis Pro Collagen Marine Cream is something that I’ve used for a really long time too. It’s the moisturiser that has seen me through my twenties and into my thirties. I always team it with Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair. And on my nightstand I always have a bottle of This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray, because I love aromatherapy.
And, as far as makeup goes, I’m a bit of a mascara freak. I love the new Benefit Roller Lash Mascara. It’s probably the best one that I’ve tried in a really long time. For concealer I love Bobbi Brown – they’re the best for the under-eye area – and they’ve just launched a new formula which I’m desperate to try.
Which other women working in the industry inspire you?
Women like Anna-Marie Solowij and Nicola Moulton – who were my bosses at Vogue – are a massive source of inspiration for me. But I also love beauty entrepreneurs. It’s a bit of a shameless plug, but Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp who founded Birchbox are such an inspiration. They’re just two girls who started a project at business school, and just look what it’s become!
Similarly, someone like Marcia Kilgore, who founded Bliss and then Soap & Glory. She’s just a real innovator in the industry. I love people who come up with new concepts and push boundaries. That was one of the things that attracted me to Birchbox.
And, finally, what’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
I think it would be, “If you don’t ask you don’t get”. My dad always used to say that to me. Because if you don’t ask you never know if you’re going to be able to achieve. So, if you have an idea – even if you think it’s stupid – say it, because it could be amazing. But, it’s equally important to ask for that promotion that you wanted, or that title change, or your salary increase. People aren’t going to hand things to you on a plate, you’ve got to ask. And also always ask yourself questions, like “What could I being doing more of? How could I be achieving more?” I think it’s important to constantly have little check-ins with yourself.
And you can catch up on the previous My 9 to 5 interviews here >>